Toril Moi

Toril Moi teaches literature and philosophy at Duke.

Don’t look back: Rereading Duras

Toril Moi, 13 April 2023

From the​ 1970s to the 1990s anyone who, like me, was interested in French women writers, feminist theory and Lacanian psychoanalysis couldn’t avoid Marguerite Duras. Lacan himself had said of Le Ravissement de Lol V. Stein that ‘Marguerite Duras turns out to know what I teach without me,’ and I remember dutifully trying to make sense of that novel within the Lacanian...

Simone Weil wanted to merge with the masses, to be anonymous and unobtrusive – a worker, a farmhand, a trade unionist, a soldier – one among many, working and fighting alongside others. Yet she found true solidarity hard to come by. Everywhere she went, she stood out. She was often the only woman; she was always different. The poet Jean Tortel notes that her purity inspired fear. Even her writings are not really about acknowledging the pain of others. They are, rather, about the complete eradication of the self in the service of the afflicted, who, precisely because of their affliction, have already had their own subjectivity obliterated. Weil’s only loving interlocutor is God. What about​ her ideas? There is no disputing their importance. Her thinking about affliction, attention, factory work, oppression and liberation, rights and obligations, and the need for belonging has been influential across political theory, moral philosophy and theology. She has inspired thinkers as different as Maurice Blanchot, Iris Murdoch and Giorgio Agamben.

When I mentioned​ to a friend that I was going to review a biography of Nathalie Sarraute, his first question was: ‘Will she last?’ I hesitated to reply. First of all, it’s not clear what it means for a writer to ‘last’. Do we mean that she wrote books that will be read for pleasure for centuries, like Pride and Prejudice and Anna Karenina? Sarraute was too...


Beauvoir Misrepresented?

11 February 2010

Toril Moi writes: Constance Borde and Sheila Malovany-Chevallier claim, as does Michelle Sommers, that I focus unfairly on a ‘few mistakes’ in the new translation of The Second Sex. Not so. In fact, I show that it suffers from pervasive problems concerning words for sex and gender, from incoherent syntax, loss of rhythm and clarity, unidiomatic expressions, and ‘false friends’, and that there...

In the short space of time since the Liberation, Beauvoir had established herself as a writer and intellectual. Her first philosophical essay, Pyrrhus et Cinéas, had been well received, and in 1945, her second novel, The Blood of Others, had been praised as the first novel of the Resistance. In the public realm, her name was firmly linked to Jean-Paul Sartre’s, and to existentialism, which was becoming so fashionable that Sartre had to hire a secretary. No longer a beginner, no longer unknown, Beauvoir had nothing to prove; she could write about anything. She decided to write about herself.

Staging Death: Ibsen's Modernism

Martin Puchner, 8 February 2007

Henrik Ibsen died in 1906, acknowledged as the founder of modern drama. Today, he is the most performed dramatist in the world after Shakespeare. It was an unlikely success story. Born in 1828 in...

Read more reviews

Feminism is fiftysomething if you start counting from The Second Sex, and, like Toril Moi, a lot of academic women are taking stock. The good news is that wherever positive discrimination in...

Read more reviews

Read anywhere with the London Review of Books app, available now from the App Store for Apple devices, Google Play for Android devices and Amazon for your Kindle Fire.

Sign up to our newsletter

For highlights from the latest issue, our archive and the blog, as well as news, events and exclusive promotions.

Newsletter Preferences